Friday, August 11, 2006

Land of the Blind

We checked out the Rhode Island International Film Festival last night. I try to attend film festivals whenever I have a chance, more out of a sense of obligation than out of a love of cinema. I feel like I should take advantage of the chance to see some interesting films when I have the chance, but I find the whole thing somewhat tedious. Even a small-time festival screens at least a couple dozen films. Deciding which film(s) to attend is not exactly a logistical nightmare, but it's a lot more demanding than deciding between the 6:30 and 9:30 showing of Talladega Nights. Selecting films from this year's festival was a bit easier than the past couple of years at the Syracuse International Film and Video Festival. The RIIFF is a much bigger festival so a number of films featured actors and directors I had actually heard of before. I discovered last night that the thing I really like about film festivals are the short films. The movie we checked out last night was feature length, which was fine, but at that point, it's basically no different than going to the movies. The only difference is that there are no previews. Unlike most of the feature length movies in the festival, the one we saw last night didn't start out with a short film appetizer. The bulk of the shorts are being screened during the day, so I don't think I'm going to get a chance to see any of them. The other downside of seeing big name movies at a small festival is there is very little chance that the director or the actors will be on hand for a Q&A session after the screening.

The movie we checked out last night was called Land of the Blind. It was a political satire starring Ralph Fiennes as an idealistic and patriotic army officer and Donald Sutherland as an imprisoned revolutionary playwright. The movie took a cynical yet honest look at how revolutions that topple an oppressive government often wind up being as bad or worse than the previous regime once they take power. The president (for life) is a fairly amusing composite of tyrants throughout the ages. His preoccupation with film and exaggerated basketball skills are an homage to Kim Jong Il, I assume. He's got some Franco in him as well as some 18th century aristocracy, as evidenced by the powdered wigs. There are several none to subtle similarities between him and George W. Bush as well, in case you were wondering. The movie starts off a lot better than it ends. I tend to have trouble with the endings of a lot of art house films, and this was no exception. The story was told in a somewhat non-linear fashion, and unless I was totally missing something, the final scene chronologically occurred about two-thirds of the way through the movie. So I left the theater without a lot of closure, but I got the point. As Roger Daultry once said: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The movie had a very sparse score, but the music that was there was excellent. Another thing that I liked was how they mixed American and British-accented English. Most of the actors were British and it appeared to be filmed in Britain (the cars were all right-hand drive, for example), but the American actors didn't change their accents. I thought that this made the film more universal. By mixing accents from the US and Britain and symbolism from around the world, the place that they created was completely fictional but entirely realistic.

The film was screened at the Cable Car Cinema, a small art house theater in Providence. It was our first visit to the theater and we found it quite nice. It was the first time I ever watched a movie at a theater seated on a love seat. One side of the theater has regular fold-down movie seats while the other has rows of love seats. It's a nice touch and fortunately, they seem to keep the couches pretty clean, which is a welcome change from some art house cinemas.


MDS said...

I like film festivals better in theory than in practice. I've been to Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival twice, and I always thoroughly enjoyed it. But at his, you know you're getting movies that have the Ebert seal of approval. At other film festivals, most films have never been reviewed by any critic, and you have no way of knowing whether you're going to see absolute crap.

If you like the short films, keep an eye out before the Oscars. In Chicago you can find theaters screening all of the nominated shorts, and I'm betting you can find them in Providence as well.

dhodge said...

I do have a soft spot in my heart for DIY short films of dubious quality. Perhaps this is due to my involvement in "Three Schmucks and an Italian", which, along with "Clerks", is credited by film historians for launching the independent film boom.